Lowell, Massachusetts

The First Brazilian Immigrants in New England

By Maurício Mendes, Lowell, MA.  First published in Bossa magazine, June 1999.

    On that Tuesday, the 31st of March in 1964, everything seemed quiet.   From the bell tower of a religious temple, tender chimes announced the passing hours of the day.  Suddenly, radio bulletins announced unexpected news:   military troops from Minas Gerais and São Paulo were in Rio do Janeiro to invade Fort São João (in Laranjeiras).  From inside the government building, Carlos Lacerda (the President of Brazil at the time) vehemently denounced General Aragão.   Regardless, the campaign was successful and victory went to the military.

    The green cloud of dictatorship was covering Brazil, frightening everyone.  In the following year (1965), still in this climate of uncertainty and political transformation, some people left the country in search of new perspectives of lift.  Even so, the major flow of emigration was in the following decade.

    The history of the Brazilian community in New England began in Lowell, also in 1965.  John Bertos, owner of the semi-pro soccer team the Lowell Astros, was seeking to beef up his team by by recruiting players and called a friend of his in New York.  His friend said that he had two good Brazilian players he could trade.  However, instead of two, four showed up.  Bertos, although not happy, accepted them.  The four Brazilians, Ely, Roberto, Dinga, and Paulista, never could have imagined that they would be the founders of the New England Brazilian community (while it's possible that there may have been other Brazilians here at that time, none had been identified).  Two of them, Ely and Paulista, played for a short time, but Zé Roberto and Dinga continued rising to state champions.

    Then came Pivete, another important element.  In 1967, the cast of Brazilian soccer players in Lowell increased by three with the arrival of Wagner, Sabino, and Lucas.  In the following year, Bertos landed at Pampulha in Minas Gerais to personally select another eighteen players.  Décio Brito, Marquinhos, and Edmar came first, and the other arrived on different flights.  In these transactions, about 80 Brazilian superstars came to the States, including:  Noventa, Luizinho, Café, and Da Silva, among others.  According to some, if Bertos had listened to the experts, he would have become a great American soccer magnate.  Nevertheless, Bertos is a very successful businessman and president of Giovanni's Sportswear in Lowell.

    The community has grown a lot during these thirty-four years, having developed a network of relatives, friends, and acquaintances of those who arrived first, constituting what everyone now knows.  Lowell has been the reference point of millions of Brazilian immigrants, without their even knowing why.  Shops with Brazilian products, pizzerias, bars, and restaurants are some of the types of businesses chosen by our merchants, contributing to the progress of the city.

    As life is not always happy, something occurred in 1970 that affected us all.  Geraldo, a player with America Mineiro and loved by all, was trying to escape from a fire in his building when he jumped from a second-floor window plunging into the freezing waters of the Pawtucket Canal.  He was killed instantly.  This horrible incident has never been forgotten.